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Podesta Apologizes to Boehner for Jonestown Crack

Center for American Progress chairman called House GOP ‘a cult worthy of Jonestown’

Jonestown victims and John Podesta
Jonestown victims and John Podesta / AP
• December 18, 2013 1:10 pm

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The White House’s newest top adviser apologized on Wednesday for comparing House Republicans to members of a notorious suicidal cult after the comment drew fire from congressional Republicans.

John Podesta, who is leaving his post as the chairman of the Center for American Progress to be a "special counselor" to the president, called House Republicans "a cult worthy of Jonestown" in an interview with POLITICO Magazine.

The comment immediately drew fire from Republican leaders.

"This type of appalling and inflammatory rhetoric is a very troubling sign of how this White House plans to govern over the next three years," said Rory Cooper, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.).

"What happened to changing Washington and welcoming all views to the table?" Republican National Committee spokesman Raffi Williams asked.

"Was that really an invitation to find common ground on behalf of the American people? Or just a White House that continues to be more interested in scoring political points than solving our country's problems?"

Podesta apologized to Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), writing on Twitter, "my snark got in front of my judgment."

More than 900 people died at the Jonestown community in Guyana in a mass suicide by members of the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project cult.

Members of the cult attacked a 1976 congressional delegation that visited Jonestown to investigate allegations of human rights abuses. Among those killed was Rep. Leo Ryan (D., Calif.).

Rep. Jackie Speier (D., Calif.), then an aide to Ryan, was shot five times. Speier’s office declined to comment on Podesta’s remarks.

Cooper said comments like Podesta’s exacerbate tensions between the executive and members of Congress.

"This White House has routinely governed by executive fiat, and now they've hired a partisan lobbyist who uses this type of rhetoric to lead the way in the West Wing," he said in an email.

"It's hard to see how this helps relations between Congress and the president."

Podesta is expected to fuel the administration’s attempts to bypass Congress rather than work with it. He has been a strong proponent of executive power, encouraging President Obama to achieve by executive action what he cannot through legislation.